In 180-degree reversal, Berlusconi backs Italian premier


ROME -- Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has made a last-minute U-turn on plans to bring down the Italian government, backing premier Enrico Letta in a crucial confidence vote after members of his own party threatened to desert him.

In a shocking reversal that could splinter his party and seriously damage his political fortunes, Berlusconi agreed to throw his support behind Letta. The prime minister is trying to pass reforms intended to drag Italy out of its most serious recession since the Second World War.

Following last-ditch talks with rebels in his party, the 77-year-old media mogul made a short speech to the Italian Senate shortly before the vote, saying: “We have decided, not without some internal strife, to support the government.”


Earlier, at the start of a tense day in the Senate, Letta said derailing his left-right coalition cabinet would sabotage economic recovery in Italy, where youth unemployment has hit 40%.

“Italy is running a risk that could be fatal without remedy,” he said. “Thwarting this risk, to seize or not seize the moment, depends on the choices we will make in this chamber.”

Berlusconi had prompted the confidence vote by ordering five ministers from his party to resign from the cabinet on Saturday. It was a furious reaction to a pending vote in the Senate to oust him from the legislative body following his conviction last month for tax fraud.

But Letta rebuffed their resignations, and the five were sitting loyally next to him in the Senate on Wednesday. They included Angelino Alfano, the interior minister once seen as Berlusconi’s political heir, who had openly defied Berlusconi’s call to vote down the government. Another minister and Berlusconi stalwart, Gaetano Quagliariello, was brandishing a list of 23 rebels in Berlusconi’s party in the Senate, enough to hand Letta a narrow victory in the vote.

“During our meeting this morning, news that bits of the party were splitting off continued to arrive, and therefore, for the good of the party, Berlusconi chose to back the confidence vote,” said Alessandra Mussolini, a supporter of Berlusconi in the Senate and the granddaughter of former fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Letta won the vote comfortably by 235 votes to 70 after Berlusconi’s speech. Hearing Berlusconi backtrack, Letta reacted with surprise, laughing and shaking his head.



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